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Fabio Casartelli (1970-1995)

As the peloton speeds by today on the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France‘s first visit to the Pyrenees, spare a thought for a less famous but no less notable milestone which passed yesterday.

It was on July 18th 1995 that Fabio Casartelli, riding for the Motorola team which included a callow, pre-cancer Lance Armstrong, crashed and died on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet.

Fabio Casartelli memorial on the Col de Portet d'Aspet (image courtesy of will_cyclist)

Casartelli, an Olympic gold medallist in the 1992 road race in Barcelona, was one of a number of riders who crashed on the descent, but his head hit concrete blocks by the road-side, causing severe head injuries. Race doctors arrived immediately on the scene to treat him and he was airlifted to hospital, but he stopped breathing en route and was declared dead. He was 24.

Had he been wearing the kind of modern cycling helmet which are now mandatory for riders, it is possible he might have survived, although expert opinions were divided at the time.

The following day, his Motorola team crossed the finish line side-by-side at the front of the peloton in tribute to their fallen comrade, and three days after the accident an emotional Lance Armstrong added a breakaway win which he dedicated to Casartelli by pointing skywards as he finished.

Lance Armstrong dedicates victory to Fabio Casartelli as he wins stage 18 of the 1995 Tour de France (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

A memorial now stands near the location of his fatal crash, featuring a sundial arranged such that the sun’s shadow highlights his birth, death and the day of his Olympic triumph.

At the time of writing, the stage leaders are approaching the summit of the Portet d’Aspet and will no doubt fly past the site at full racing speed. But they will know, and those old enough to do so will remember. As do we all.

Chapeau, Fabio.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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